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Revelation Space
Alastair Reynolds
Narrated by John Lee, unabridged
Tantor Media, 22 hours

Revelation Space
Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds was born in 1966 in Barry, South Wales. He spent his early years in Cornwall, moved back to Wales and on to university in Newcastle, doing Physics and Astronomy. Then it was on to a PhD in St Andrews, Scotland. In 1991, he moved to Holland, where he met his partner Josette, and worked as ESA Research Fellow before his post-doctoral work at Utrecht University.

Alastair Reynolds Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: House of Suns
SF Site Review: House of Suns
SF Site Review: Galactic North
SF Site Review: The Prefect
SF Site Review: Zima Blue and Other Stories
SF Site Review: Pushing Ice
SF Site Review: Pushing Ice
SF Site Review: Century Rain
SF Site Review: Century Rain
SF Site Review: Absolution Gap
SF Site Review: Turquoise Days
SF Site Review: Redemption Ark
SF Site Review: Revelation Space
SF Site Review: Chasm City
SF Site Review: Revelation Space

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sarah Trowbridge

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Set in the 25th and 26th centuries, Alastair Reynolds's space opera Revelation Space relates the adventures of three disparate, more-or-less human characters in different circumstances and different parts of the galaxy as their goals and objectives gradually converge. The principals are: Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist with a few techno-physiological modifications who stays in fairly regular (though not particularly amicable) contact with his dead father Calvin by summoning a beta-level simulation Dad captured pre-mortem; Ilia Volyova, one of a triumvirate of cybernetically enhanced humans (or "chimerics") piloting a light-hugger interstellar vessel packed with weapons of mysterious and frighteningly awesome power; and Ana Khouri, an ex-soldier whom we first encounter working as an assassin for a firm that serves the recreational needs of the very rich.

Dan Sylveste is obsessed by an ancient extinct race called the Amarantin, particularly by the archaeological evidence on the planet Resurgam of a cataclysmic event that appears to have been responsible for wiping them out 900,000 years before. Sylveste has political enemies, and winds up in long-term prison when one of those enemies seizes power in a coup. Meanwhile -- in chronologies that start eight years and 27 years before Sylveste's, respectively -- Volyova and Khouri have already begun their individual trajectories that will lead them to cross paths with one another and with Sylveste.

References to mysterious and powerful entities known as the Pattern Jugglers and the Shrouders punctuate the narrative. Several characters, both central and peripheral, experience dramatic transformations as a result of their encounters with these creatures. Gradually the reader pieces together some assumptions and conclusions about them, and in the final scenes of the book a number of details concerning the true nature of the Shrouders -- and their significance to both the past and the future of the Revelation Space universe -- are revealed.

Alastair Reynolds, an astronomer employed by the European Space Agency at the time of the original publication of Revelation Space, puts his effort into the development of a cohesive technological future, plausibly developed from where we now stand. He seems less interested -- in this first novel, at least -- in developing fully three-dimensional characters with credible and recognizable motivations and inner lives. Of the three principal characters, none is really likable, nor do they manage to be unlikable in any very intriguing way. This might lead the reader to expect instead a strongly plot-driven story, in which a fast pace of events carries the narrative along, sweeping the reader up in its momentum, and making it less important that the characters fail to interest. Yet the novel's events occur in a strangely detached fashion, leaving the reader uninvolved and often too confused to care very much what is happening, or why.

Narrator John Lee, an audiobook veteran with a following of fans, nevertheless comes up short in his rendition of Revelation Space. Lee fails to provide enough variation in characters' voices to make it always clear who is speaking. What differentiation he does provide consists mainly of slight Russian, French, and other accents that do not wear well with constant use, and from time to time sound downright laughable at the most inopportune moments. In a story such as Revelation Space, in which the characters are not all that well developed and distinctive in the first place, a reader with a large repertoire of dissimilar and easily recognized character voices can go a long way toward making up for this shortcoming; unfortunately, John Lee is not such a reader.

Revelation Space, published in print in 2000, was the first title in a series that has since grown to six volumes. Subsequent novels in the series expand upon various enigmas and questions left open by the end of this book. Readers who are interested in the details of the universe Alastair Reynolds introduces here, and who find themselves intrigued rather than discouraged by the uncertainties and loose ends that abound in Revelation Space, will no doubt want to explore the series further.

Copyright © 2009 Sarah Trowbridge

Sarah Trowbridge reads (and listens) compulsively, chronically, and eclectically. She is a public librarian in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.


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